A wildlife garden recreates the habitats found in nature. Its purpose is to provide a haven for creatures of all kinds. No chemicals are used so that the balance of nature is not disturbed.
Many native trees and shrubs are planted, because these are attractive to indigenous creatures. For example the oak alone has c. 285 dependent insects. These insects attract birds; birds attract mammals and so a myriad of food chains begin.
A wildlife garden will also act as a reservoir for native plants that are rapidly disappearing from the wild. Intensive farming, insensitive development and over-use of herbicides have put many in danger of extinction.
Aim to create a woodland glade effect viz. a clear, sunny area in the centre of the garden, surrounded by shrubs and trees. Aim for contrast too, with tall meadow grass and flowers merging with the trees and water feature, with a lawn beside this.
Create a corridor for wildlife by having a native hedgerow merging with the meadow, water feature and wood.
In a sunny corner place a compost bin; in a shady corner make a leafmould heap from four stout posts inserted 1m apart with mesh wire tied around them.
How To Begin
Start with a mini-wood in a corner of the garden. This could be as small as 4m square. However it should have four layers: ground, field, shrub and canopy.
- The ground layer contains leaf litter, rotting logs, moss, ivy and fungi. Woodlice, beetles, centipedes etc... will frequent it.
- The field layer contains shade-loving flowers such as cowslips, bluebells, wild garlic, wood anemone and wood sorrel. These will bloom in early spring before the tree leaves block out most of the light.
- The shrub layer contains hollies, hazels, hawthorns, crab apples and honeysuckles.
- The tree layer will have native trees such as rowans, oaks, birches, ash and alder.
Insects and other creatures will be attracted to their own specific layers. These in turn will attract birds: thrushes will be drawn to the canopy, robins and finches to the shrubs, blackbirds and wrens to the ground. One oak, one holly, several species of native woodland flowers and a heap of rotting logs would constitute a mini-wood.
The following is a list of some native trees and the number of their dependent insect species:
A Native Hedgerow
This will resemble the mini-wood habitat. It too will abound with beetles, woodlice, centipedes, shrews, field mice, millipedes, wrens, dunnocks and blackbirds in the bottom; robins and finches will inhabit the middle berth; spiders and Thrushes and Tits will favour the top.
Along the edges butterflies and bees will seek nectar during the day and at night bats will do likewise. A typical hedge might have the following plants:
- Wild Roses-4%
Trees such as rowan, crab apple, silver birch, aspen and wych elm could make up the last 10% of the hedgerow.
A Nectar Patch
Bees, butterflies, moths and many other insect species will throng to this area. It is one place where a large variety of non-native plants may be grown. These creatures are will love any plant that has copious amounts of nectar.
Butterflies will be attracted to the non-native butterfly bush (Buddleia spp.), lavender, candytuft, marjoram, yellow alyssum, ice plant, verbena, red valerian and early flowering spring bulbs such as grape hyacinths and crocus. They will also love the native bramble, Devil's Bit scabious, knapweed, primrose and Self-Heal. If nettles are grown in a container nearby species such as the Red Admiral, Peacock and Tortoiseshell will lay eggs on them. Their caterpillars will eat no other plant except the nettle.
Bees will be attracted to the native gorse, ivy, broom and clover, and the non-native borage, mint, hyssop, sage, viburnum species and flowering currant.
Moths like evening and night-scented plants like the native and non-native honeysuckles, tobacco plant, evening primrose and night-scented stock.
This area should face southwards, as insects like warmth. A south-facing wall is an ideal to have as a backdrop to the nectar bed.
A Bird Sanctuary
The mini-wood and hedgerow will attract many species of bird. These areas can be supplemented with plenty of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that have an abundance of seeds and berries.
Excellent native plants include rowan, ivy, dogrose, sweet briar, honeysuckle, bramble, bird cherry, guelder rose, holly, hawthorn, teasel, common knapweed, meadowsweet, lesser burdock and common bird's foot trefoil. Non-natives include cotoneaster, pyracantha, buddleia, june berry, quince, evening primrose, sunflower, Michaelmas daisies, honesty and snapdragon.
Bird boxes should be positioned on walls in mid-winter. They should face North, East, North-East or South-East away from direct sunshine and the prevailing winds.
A bird table sited near shelter will provide food in the winter. Suitable food includes unsalted peanuts, cheese, cooked potato, suet, coconut, raisins, wholemeal moistened bread, wild bird seed, oatmeal, apples, cake, fat, mixed nuts, currants, bones, biscuits and meat scraps.
Pond And Marsh Habitats
A pond will be a haven for many types of creatures that are threatened with extinction due to "improvement" of land. Frogs especially will frequent it. In summer the pond skaters, whirligig beetles, water boatmen and water spiders will fascinate everyone. These creatures will act as both prey and predator and intricate food chains will develop.
Undoubtedly the wild flowers that grow in a wetland habitat are the most beautiful of all. Submerged plants such as water crowfoot, water starwort, spiked water milfoil and curled pondweed will oxygenate the water.
Floating plants will provide protection from sunlight. These include water lily, broad leaved pondweed, frogbit, amphibious bistort and common duckweed.
Marginal plants such as bogbean, brooklime, marsh marigold, water mint and water forget-me-not will grow around the edges.
A marsh area beside the pond will have purple loosestrife, meadowsweet, ragged robin, Lady's Smock and hemp agrimony.
A spring meadow will contain grasses such as sweet vernal, meadow foxtail, red fescue and common bent. It will have wildflowers such as cowslips, Lady's Smock, Cat's Ear, ox-eye daisy and meadow buttercup. This area is cut once a year in early July. The cuttings are removed to keep fertility low. (A wildflower meadow thrives in poor soil).
A summer meadow is in full bloom from June to October. It too will have ox-eye daisies as well as lovely late-flowering meadow perennials such as field scabious, greater knapweed, rough hawkbit, Lady's Bedstraw and yarrow.
A cornfield meadow contains annuals such as cornflowers, poppies, corncockles, chamomiles and corn marigolds. The area for these has to be dug and cultivated in imitation of an arable field. The seeds are sown in September/October.
Many butterflies use meadow grasses as foodplants for their caterpillars. It also provides cover for frogs, mammals and insects.
Go Wild At School by Patrick Madden. This is a step by step guide on how to create a wildlife garden on school grounds particularly but it will act as a guide for any site. It is 100% Irish and is available from:
The School Wildlife Garden Association, Petrie Rd., Donore Ave., Sth. Circular Rd., Dublin 8.
Phone: 01 454-1899 or 01 627-2117.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com
Price: £5.95 plus £1.25 p & p. Total: £7.20
The Blackrock Education Centre's website has much information and many activities based on wildlife gardening. These activities are done on a monthly basis.
A video by Gerry Daly entitled Down To Earth, which describes how to establish a school garden, is also available from this centre at a cost of £10.00. Their video All About Plants (available at the same price) has a 20 minute documentary by Gerry Daly of the wildlife garden in Scoil Treasa, Donore Ave.
The Practical Conservation Pack, available from Conservation Volunteers, Northern Ireland, describes in detail how to establish a wildlife garden. Their address is: Conservation Volunteers, The Pavilion, Cherryvale Playing Fields, Ravenhill Rd., Belfast BT6 0BZ.
Phone: 0232 645169
BirdWatch Ireland, 8 Longford Place, Monkstown, Co. Dublin, has lots of information on birds and bird boxes.
Phone: 01 280-4222. Website: www.birdwatchireland.ie
The Probation and Welfare Service, Smithfield Chambers, Dublin 7 make bat boxes, bird boxes and sundries. Phone: 01 817-3600
The Irish Peatland Conservation Council has lots of books and videos relating to wildlife gardening on sale.
Phone/Fax: 01 872-2397. Website: www.ipcc.ie Email:firstname.lastname@example.org
The WildIreland magazine, which is available fromwww.wildireland.ie, runs regular features on wildlife gardening.
Native wildflower seeds can be purchased from: Design by Nature, Monavea Cross, Crettyard, Carlow.
Phone: 00353 56 42526
Fax: 00353 56 42722
Web site: www.wildflowers.ie
Irish Wildflowers Ltd., The Wood, Dingle, Co. Kerry.
Phone: 066 915-2200
Ecoseeds, 1 Barview Cottages, Strangford, Co. Down, BT30 7NN.
Two excellent books produced in England are:
The Wildlife Garden, Month By Month by Jackie Bennett (David & Charles 1997)
Wild Flower Gardening by John Stevens (Dorling Kindersley, 1987)
Native trees and shrubs can be purchased from:
Future Forests Ltd., Maugha, Kealkill, Bantry, Co. Cork.
Coillte Nurseries, Ballintemple Nursery, Ardattin, Co. Carlow.
Eco Community Tree Nursery,
c/o Oakwood Community Centre, Jamestown Rd., Finglas, Dublin 11.
Phone: 01 864-6011
Woodstock Trees and Shrubs,
Dreenane, Derrinturn, Carbury, Co. Kildare.
Flannery Nurseries, Staplestown, Donadea, Clane, Co. Kildare.
Rountree Broadleaf and Native Tree Nursery,
Fivealley, Birr, Co. Offaly.
Van Derwel Ltd., Cappagh Nurseries, Aughrim, Co. Wicklow.
Woodstock Seeds Ltd., Shankill, Co. Dublin (excellent for willows).
Phone: 01 282-0882